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More and more people are struggling to balance life, daily activities  and health.  Understanding your nervous system, what this even means, the link with stress, mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, impact on gut health and many other long-term chronic health conditions is powerful knowledge if you want to take control of your health.

The market for wearable devices and sleep tracking is now huge and most people are tracking in some way.  However, there seem to be a couple of key limitations:

  • There is a primary focus on sleep and not so many people know how their specific daily activities impact their nervous system or how they recover from them and what the balance between these activities is.
  • Not many people change what they do as a result of the data they have!

This is where I have found Firstbeat invaluable – not only in supporting clients with long-term behaviour change to optimise health outcomes and improve sporting performance but personally I’ve made some significant changes in how I live my day to day life as a result of its use.

Firstbeat goes a step further than most other devices by tracking daytime recovery and stressors in detail and then subsequently the BALANCE between your stressors and recovery with reasons for why any imbalance may be. Using this alongside nutrition and coaching work adds yet another valuable piece to the puzzle and is a great enabling tool for behaviour change.

What is ‘stress’?


Stress gets a bad rap but we all need stress (or the hormones cortisol and adrenaline).  It is what gets us out of bed in the morning.   The issues arise when we spend too much time in a high-stress (or cortsol/adrenaline) driven state without adequate recovery.  Over the months and years this takes it’s toll on us physiologically leading to potentially elevated chronic inflammation (a root cause of all chronic health conditions in some form or other including autoimmune conditions, cancer, cardiovascular diseases), burnout and/or reduced performance, be it athletically or at work.

Some Nervous System Science Basics:

  • Our autonomic nervous system is made of two principle arms – the sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest or digest) arms.
  • When in sympathetic mode (SM) our body is producing more cortisol or adrenaline and our nervous system is in active state preparing for ‘fight or flight’.  There are different levels of activation – it’s not just on or off (see graph below).
  • When in parasympathetic mode (PSM) our body is in a good state to sleep and eat as blood flow is diverted from muscles to our gut and other organs such as the liver required for optimal recovery – acetylcholine and nitric oxide (widens blood vessels and very important for CVD health) are activated in PSM mode.
  • We need to be able to move between these two arms of the nervous system well and this is what is measured when we talk about Heart Rate Variability (HRV).
  • HRV is a physiological measure of the variation between heartbeats and shown to be a strong predictor of overall health and well-being.  It provides information about the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic arms of the nervous system.
  • The absolute HRV number is less of a consideration but the pattern for you as built up over a period of time – again its all about personalisation.  Having said that there are reasons why some individuals may be stuck with permanently low HRV readings which is the subject for another day.  Another way of describing HRV is the variation between consecutive heart beats.


One big issue I see is that clients are not aware of when they actually are in rest and digest because we have all become so used to moving and doing at 100 mph and that it is our normal.  The lower end of this normal is not low enough for most of us.  I would previously have included myself in this category.  Then we wonder why we cant sleep, why we have digestive issues, why we feel we are pushing through treacle every day.

Instead of just monitoring, Firstbeat allows you to see your body’s reaction to daily activities and enable you to make proactive choices about health and wellbeing.  Often simple switches that we’d have otherwise not been aware of that can make a dramatic difference to our ability to recover from the day’s activities.   Here is an example of a daily reading from an Executive client with a high stress job and inadequate recovery – when repeated for prolonged periods this is not sustainable albeit their sleep was probably a saving grace for now:


Here is an example of another client who was travelling – the impact on the body of travelling frequently should not be underestimated:


Finally, changes made by the first client 2 months later and an example of a changed typical day with nutritional and behaviour coaching incorporated:

To conclude, being able to make doable adjustments to your lifestyle and diet (nutrition can alter HRV), is a powerful tool be it to moderate an existing chronic health condition, avoid burnout, support athletic performance (particular for age-groupers who also have full time jobs plus children….plus plus….) and enable you to live life to the fullest for longest.

Knowledge is power but we need to use the knowledge we have which is where working with someone to support you and guide you over a period of time to make sustainable change can be invaluable.   You can read more about personalised nutrition packages here and if you’d like to find out more how you can work with Katherine, please do get in touch at